The Jewish Struggle for Universal Human Rights

August 29, 2012 by Isi Leibler
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One of the conundrums associated with the enduring nature of global antisemitism which has soared exponentially in recent years, is why, having made such disproportionate contributions towards all levels of civilization and left major imprints on science, ethics, medicine, culture and the arts, we Jews continue to act as a magnet for such virulent hatred…writes Isi Leibler.

Isi Leibler

Equally bizarre is the failure of formerly oppressed groups and nations to reciprocate or even acknowledge the extraordinary Jewish contributions in support of their struggles towards overcoming persecution, discrimination, abuse of human rights and achieving independence.

This is typified by the fact that whereas there is no American group comparable to the Jews who sacrificed so much to help African-Americans to overcome racial discrimination and their struggle for civil rights, ironically, today they are  amongst the foremost US racial or ethnic groups promoting anti-Israelism and antisemitism.  The recent loathsome outburst by the African-American writer Alice Walker who sought to prohibit her novel – relating to racism – from being translated into Hebrew, typifies this. Walker’s demonization of Israel even extended to accusing Israel of practicing “racism” in a more extreme manner than was the case in apartheid South Africa. This is all the more perverse because aside from being the only free and democratic society in the region, the Jewish State probably also comprises the greatest mélange of racial groups in the world committed to equality.

The same criticism would apply to the current South African government which is today bitterly anti-Israeli despite the fact that individual South African Jews were at the vanguard of the struggle against apartheid, many having been forced to leave the country during apartheid regime.

Yet, even Archbishop Tutu, whose anti-Israeli outbursts have now morphed into vulgar populist anti-Jewish diatribes, concedes that “in our struggle against apartheid, the greatest supporters were the Jewish people… They almost instinctively had to be on the side of the disenfranchised, of the voiceless ones”. But in the same breath he paved the way for his government’s recent anti-Israeli initiatives by calling for divestment from Israel which “has oppressed more than the apartheid ideologues could ever dream about in South Africa” and descends into primitive antisemitism referring to Jews as “a peculiar people” who “once oppressed and killed” are now “empowered”, and “refuse to listen and disobey God.”

Similar attitudes prevail amongst a number of Third World leaders. I will never forget a meeting in New Delhi in 1981 with the late Indian President Indira Gandhi in which she erupted in a frenzied anti-Israeli outburst laced with rage against “international Jewish power” which she claimed was responsible for having turned the US against India. In response to my rejoinder, she conceded that whilst in England, the majority of the closest friends of her family were British Jews who passionately supported their struggle against colonialism and efforts to achieve independence. Yet, this in no way mitigated her hatred against Israel or her conspiratorial fantasies about international Jewish power.

History records the numerous misguided Jewish idealists in Europe and the United States who, in the 1930s, abandoned Judaism and Zionism and devoted their lives towards promoting and even worshipping the false messianic cause of communism. Even distant members of my own family in pre-war Belgium, in their passionate desire to combat Nazism, relinquished their Jewish heritage and in 1936, needlessly sacrificed their lives for Stalin on the battlefields of Spain.

Yet these same Jewish communists who, out of a misplaced exclusive commitment to universalism, devoted their lives to fanatically serving an evil totalitarian system, subsequently themselves became victims of the antisemitic purges and bogus trials initiated by Stalin in the late 1930s, the murder of the Jewish writers in 1948,which culminated with the infamous  1952 Moscow Doctors’ plot. These initiatives, unquestionably motivated by feral antisemitism, would probably have resulted in massive deportations of Jews to the Gulag were it not for Stalin’s timely demise in 1953.

There are Jews today who still maintain that the universalist tradition in Judaism obliges us to set aside our own “parochial” Jewish interests and in order to concentrate exclusively on making the world a better place by combating injustice.

Yet in reality, the alleged tension between the Jewish role in maintaining itself as a particularistic nation and promoting universalistic ethical values is often exaggerated and not mutually exclusive. Abraham did not smash the idols and Moses did not struggle for his people’s freedom in order to create a cult. They served the Jewish people but were also providing messages of universal significance to humanity.

An example of the fusion between both concepts is reflected in the oft quoted sentence from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) “If I am not for myself who will be for me?” But it is balanced by the following sentence stating “And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

There is thus every justification for us to take pride in the actions of Jews who contributed towards “tikkun olam” – repairing a fractured world – and making it a better place for mankind.

That many oppressed groups struggling for freedom, on whose behalf we fought frequently at considerable personal cost, subsequently turned against us, must not deter us from our universalistic obligations towards humanity and ongoing commitment to promote justice and human rights.

Yet, when viewing the world in  today’s troubled times, we, the Jewish people who have overcome powerlessness and miraculously regained nationhood, are obliged to recognize that our overriding priority must be to safeguard ourselves against those seeking to destroy us. In times of peril, it is both rational and incumbent to focus on our families and our own people before attempting to reform the world. By prioritizing the particularistic goals of defending and securing the well-being of the Jewish State and the Jewish people against those still seeking to fulfill Hitler’s objectives, we are ensuring that Jews will survive. One of the by-products of this will enable us to continue as in the past to contribute towards Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.

Isi Leibler lives in Jerusalem. He is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.



6 Responses to “The Jewish Struggle for Universal Human Rights”
  1. Ira says:

    I know what Isi Leibler is saying. The frustration of trying to combat racism then being accused of it is horrible. My father was a founder of the NAACP. Yet so many African Americans are the most vocal anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activists. It is though Jews who are the most active in supporting the rights of others are the turned on by the people they have helped.

    It is so weird. The “left” is now the most anti-Semitic calling Jews and Israel “right”. They support extreme dictatorships like Hamas and Iran that deny even the most fundamental human rights while condemning Israel the only pluralistic nation in the region. They condemn Israel that sends doctors and aid to help at any and every disaster while supporting organisations that strap explosives on children and send them in to kill.

    On many occasions I have felt that we should do all the horrible things we are accused of but then we would just become what the racists want us to be.

    No we cannot give up. We have to be true to ourselves and our teachings.Tikkun Olam – repairing the world is the only real goal.

    I do not believe in heaven. So I feel we must make this earth the heaven we want to have. It must be for everyone or else what kind of heaven would it be?

  2. Sally says:

    In one word – envy! In Australia, it’s called Tall Poppy Syndrome.

  3. Lynne Newington says:

    Don’t say that, it’s very sad.
    Human rights, children’s rights.
    Anti-semitism, discrimination all condundrums associated for just being born and a diconnected society.

  4. Oliver says:

    Brothers, Sisters, friends, yes we have contributed greatly to everything, arts, engineering, science etc etc,etc. So it is just blatant jealousy, from those who want to sit idly by, whilst we the creators of commerce, work ourselves to the bone. So let’s keep doing what we do well. What else would one expect from a pig, but a grunt. Let’s just soldier on. Oliver.

  5. Ben says:

    Another conundrum is why having contributed so disproportionately, some Jews have turned Zionists and are imposing the same oppression, masacre and displacement on the Palestinians ?

    • Paul Winter says:

      On which planet do you live Ben?

      More to the point, when was the last time that you were in Israel. Or for that matter in Area C?

      Spouting pallyprop only undermines any useful contribution that you could make to any debate.

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